Archive for March 2014
The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, published early in 2014, is a complex measure which proposes a significant number of changes to the law. The bulk of these relate to the criminal justice system, though the Government’s plans to change judicial review are also included in the Bill. The headline contents of the Bill are:
- New Offences of Juror Misconduct: To reflect the changes to modern society, four new offences of juror misconduct will be introduced – researching details of a case (including any online research), sharing details of the research with other jurors, disclosing details of juror deliberation and engaging in other prohibited conduct.
- New Criminal Offence of being Unlawfully At Large: Criminals who go on the run will face an additional sentence of up to two years. Offenders who have been released from the custodial part of their sentence and are recalled to custody because they have breached their strict licence conditions but do not surrender to custody are unlawfully at large. Once apprehended they may serve the remainder of their sentence but currently there is no additional punishment for these offenders.
- Ending Automatic Early Release for Paedophiles and Terrorists: Criminals convicted of rape or attempted rape of a child or serious terrorism offences will no longer be automatically released at the half-way point of their prison sentence. Under proposals in the Bill they would only be released before the end of their custodial term at the discretion of the independent Parole Board. Alongside this, no criminals who receive the tough Extended Determinate Sentence (EDS) will be released automatically two-thirds of the way into their custodial term. This means that many of them will end up spending significantly more time in prison. In total these changes will affect about 500 offenders per year.
- Clampdown on Cautions for Serious and Repeat Offenders: Criminals will no longer be able to receive a caution for the most serious offences such as rape and robbery and for a range of other serious ‘either way’ offences, for example possession of any offensive weapon, supplying Class A drugs or a range of sexual offences against children. For less serious offences, criminals will also no longer be able to receive a second caution for the same, or similar, offence committed in a two year period. In total these changes are likely to affect around 14,000 offenders a year.
- Life Sentences for More Terrorist Offences: The maximum sentence for three terrorist offences – weapons training for terrorist purposes, other training for terrorism and making or possession of explosives, will be increased to a life sentence. Terrorists convicted of a second very serious offence will face the ‘two strikes’ automatic life sentence.
- Charging Offenders for Court Costs: Convicted criminals will be made to pay towards the cost of running the country’s criminal courts. All convicted adult offenders will have to pay a charge; the money will be reinvested back into the running of the courts.
- Single Magistrates to Handle Low-Level Cases: More than three quarters of a million low-level ‘regulatory cases’, such as TV licence evasion and road tax evasion, may be dealt with by a single magistrate rather than a bench of two or three. Legislation will allow a procedure to enable some summary-only, non-imprisonable offences to be dealt with by a single magistrate, supported by a legal adviser, away from traditional magistrates’ courtrooms.
- Banning Violent Rape Pornography: Possession of explicit pornography that shows images depicting rape will become illegal. It is currently illegal to publish this material and the new legislation will close a loophole to also prevent possession.
- Overhauling Detention of Young Offenders : The rehabilitation of young offenders will be overhauled by introducing secure colleges. Led by a principal, the secure college will put education at the heart of youth rehabilitation. The legislation follows the announcement on 17 January that a pathfinder secure college will be opened in the East Midlands in 2017.
- Increase Juror Age Limit : People aged 75 and under will be able to sit as jurors in England and Wales. The move is part of a drive to make the criminal justice system more inclusive and to reflect modern society by giving more people the opportunity to serve on a jury. The current age limit is 70.
Finally, Judicial Review Reform: The Government argues that economic growth will be supported by measures to speed up the Judicial Review process and reduce the number of meritless claims clogging the system. This argument is fiercely contested. It will be the subject of a separate blog.
Late in 2013, the Government announced a short consultation on fees to be charged for using the civil courts. The Government’s argument is that, at a time or austerity, those who seek to use the courts – in particular to resolve high value disputes – should pay more towards to cost of so doing.
The Government’s case was summarised thus:
“The courts play a vital role in our democracy. They provide access to justice for those who need it, help to maintain social order and support the proper functioning of the economy. They:
- deal with those accused of committing crimes, acquitting the innocent and convicting and punishing the guilty;
- provide the right environment for business and commerce to flourish, giving people the confidence to enter into business safe in the knowledge that the commercial arrangements they agree will be recognised and enforced by the courts; and
- deal with matters affecting families, from protecting children at risk of harm to making arrangements for couples who are separating.
For many years, users have been charged fees to access the civil court system, which includes all civil, family and probate jurisdictions, as well as the Court of Protection and the Court of Appeal (Civil Division).
The power to charge fees in the civil court system of England and Wales is set out in a number of pieces of legislation, including the Courts Act 2003 and the Mental Capacity Act 2005. When setting fees in the civil court system, the Lord Chancellor is required to have regard to the principle that access to justice must not be denied.
In recent years, the government’s policy has been to set fees on the basis of full cost recovery: that is, the use of fee income to recover the full cost of the court system, minus the cost of the remissions system (fee waivers). However, until now, the courts have been operating at less than full cost recovery, which has diverted resources from other areas of operations.
It is critical that the courts are properly funded if they are to continue to provide access to justice whilst contributing to the ongoing development of a more efficient, modernised court service.
At the same time, the government has made reducing the fiscal deficit a top priority, in order to set the economy on course for growth. Under the terms of its Spending Review settlement, the Ministry of Justice is required to reduce its annual spending by over £2.5 billion by 2014/15. The courts, and those who use them, must make a contribution to reducing public spending.
Achieving this outcome in this environment involves some difficult choices: there is a limit to how much can be achieved by those spending cuts alone. For these reasons, the government believes that it is preferable that those who can afford to pay should contribute more to the costs of the courts, so that access to justice is preserved and the cost to the taxpayer is reduced.”
Within this context, proposals for very significant rises in court fees were floated. Some have argued that a consequence would be that high value international cases will move to other jurisdictions where fees are less. Others have argued that the proposals will have significant human rights implications.
Detailed policy announcements are anticipated later in 2014. Whatever the outcome, they will be very controversial.
From June 2013, there has been a procedure in place allowing victims to ask the CPS to review any decision not to take a case forward, either by not charging a person or by continuing procedures. In most cases, this involved a process of reviewing the initial decision by a more senior officer within the CPS.
An enhanced procedure is available for certain classes of victim:
- Victims of the most serious crime
- Persistently targeted victims
- Vulnerable or intimidated victims
Their rights are now set out in a revised version of the Victims’ Code that was published in December 2013.
A detailed summary of the procedure is at http://www.cps.gov.uk/victims_witnesses/victims_right_to_review/, which also has a link to the full Victims’ Code.
I have already noted that the Director of Public Prosecutions was consulting on the possible use of Deferred prosecution Agreements – designed in particular to assist in the investigation of serious fraud. In February 2014, the DPP published the Code of Practice that relates to DPAs.
DPAs involve companies reaching an agreement with a prosecutor, where the company is charged with a criminal offence but proceedings are automatically suspended. The company agrees to a number of conditions, which may include payment of a financial penalty, payment of compensation and implementation of a corporate compliance programme. DPAs may be used for fraud, bribery and economic crime.
The text of the Code is at http://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/directors_guidance/index.html
The process of driving Claims Management Companies that fail to adhere to the rules regulating their activities out of business seems to be having some success. The Government announced in February 2014 that in the previous year the authorisation of over 200 companies had been revoked. It was also announced that over 500 companies had gone out of business since referral fees were banned in 2013.
From April 2014, CMCs will have to pay higher fees to help cover the cost of regulatory activity.
For further information, go to https://www.gov.uk/government/news/clampdown-on-rogue-claims-firms
I’ve already noted that it is really hard keeping on track with the development of Alternative Business Structures. The Legal Futures blog (list in the right hand side of this page) is the best source of news and comment. I draw attention to two recent items which I think are important and interesting.
First is a piece by Chris Kenny, Chief Executive of the Legal Services Board, who argues that it is the market, not regulation, that is driving the development of ABS.
Second, is a really excellent survey by Neil Rose, founder of Legal Futures of where the ABS market has reached over the last couple of years.
To read these, go to http://www.legalfutures.co.uk/blog/time-turn-back-clock for the Kenny piece; and http://www.legalfutures.co.uk/blog/waiting-dyson-moment for the Rose article
This blog has already noted ideas for reforming criminal justice – for example, the creation of new traffic courts, and the review of the criminal trial process to make it more cost effective.
A policy think tank, the Policy Exchange, has recently (Feb 2014) published a paper – Future Courts – setting out ideas for more radical reform of the criminal justice system, in particular magistrates’ courts. The following synopsis is taken from their website. What ideas do you think might work? What would not?
“Magistrates should dispense justice inside police stations at peak times – including evenings and weekends – and be put in charge of the administration of out-of-court disposals, as part of a radical drive to speed up the operation of the criminal justice system.
Future Courts argues that locating magistrates in police stations would deliver much swifter justice, dramatically reducing the time it takes to punish criminals. There is currently a two month delay from the time an offender is charged by the police to the sentence being handed down in a magistrates’ court. The report says that this wasted time weakens the power of punishments and means that the system does little to change the behaviour of offenders.
Reforming summary justice so that magistrates hear cases on-the-spot in police stations would also allow them to oversee or directly administer out-of-court disposals such as simple cautions. There has been considerable public concern about the police’s use of these disposals, which now account for 20% of all criminal cases, including their use in response to very serious offences such as rape. The report calls for a massive expansion in the size of the magistracy to help meet the requirements of these expanded roles. Currently there are 23,000 magistrates and they preside over 90% of all criminal cases in England and Wales, although applications to join the magistracy have dramatically decreased in recent years.
The paper highlights the huge financial pressures faced by Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunals Service, which must cut its budget by 37.8% between 2012 and 2016. It says that the Ministry of Justice will inevitably focus on reducing the size of the court estate to meet this challenge. With 230 magistrates’ courts in England and Wales, compared to just 180 NHS Accident and Emergency Departments, the paper concludes that there is significant scope to re-alter the size of the estate, but that the government must take concrete steps to protect the local justice infrastructure and the functioning of the lay magistracy, which has existed for over 650 years.
The report recommends:
The recruitment of 10,000 new magistrates, taking overall numbers to 33,000: They would sit in police stations and other community buildings, oversee out-of-court disposals, review offenders’ sentences on an on-going basis, and spend a third of their volunteering time undertaking community engagement work.
A more diverse magistracy: courts sitting during evenings and weekends will encourage younger, professional people to apply, but more action is needed. Instead of automatic retirement at 70, a new ‘tenure period’ for magistrates of 10 years should be implemented, creating greater turnover – and polices should be enacted to specifically target younger and more ethnically diverse recruits.
Greater court innovation: The Ministry of Justice, the Judicial College and the Magistrates’ Association should devise a new training package for 500 or so ‘problem solving’ magistrates and judges, specialising in dealing with people with drug and alcohol addiction.
The creation of new ‘Justice Hubs’: Court buildings currently house an average of six courtrooms. As the overall footprint of the court estate is reduced, the report recommends the creation of much larger courthouses, containing around 50 courtrooms. Newly-built or converted ‘Justice Hubs’, located to serve major population areas and co-located with other justice agencies, would accommodate different criminal courts (e.g. magistrates and Crown Courts), civil courts and tribunals under the same roof, as well as housing the full range of justice services and custody facilities.”
To read the whole report go to http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/publications/category/item/future-courts-a-new-vision-for-summary-justice